Drop the legal drinking age, increase the minimum driving age.

The reason that the drinking age in most states is 21 is because of the disproportionately large number of teenagers who die in drunk driving incidents when the drinking age is lower. (cite. cite)

I feel that having the drinking age set so high leads to a unhealthy attitude toward alcohol consumption. Kids don’t learn how to drink in the presence of mature adults. Instead of drinking at home with their parents, where they have a better chance to learn how to enjoy alcohol responsibly, they learn to drink clandestinely with other teenagers, or if (snicker) they wait until they’re legal before taking their first sip (snort) they’re usually out on their own, again, with their friends, not with older adults. It seems to me that this had contributed to the rise in binge drinking, which is much more dangerous than more responsible drinking habits because it’s more likely to lead to acute alcohol poisioning as well as long term brain damage. (cite)

Now, even before you bring alcohol into the equation, teenage drivers have poorer judgement and are more susceptible to peer pressure when making decisions regarding speed, intoxicants, seat belts, and other factors. They tend to drive with more people in the car, leading to more distractions for the inexperienced driver. (cite,cite) Younger drivers get into more accidents than more mature drivers, even when the mature drivers have the same level of driving inexperience. (cite,cite,cite,cite)

The most common argument against raising the age to get a driver’s license in the U.S. is that many teens need to drive to get to work or school. However, it seems to me that teens aren’t getting into all of these accidents on the way to wholesome activities, since most teenage fatalities occured on the weekend, and more than 40% occurred between 9 pm and 6 am. (cite). Restricting when and for what purpose teenagers can drive rather than simply raising the driving age might be a reasonable compromise. “Graduated licensing” establishes different levels of licensure, prohibiting novice drivers from driving at night, or with teenage passengers. That strikes me as a really sane alternative to tossing the keys to a 16 year-old and saying, “Drive wherever and whenever you want, kid.”

I know if somebody hatched this plan when I was a teenager I would have been against it. But I also know, looking back, that I really wasn’t mature enough to be trusted with a vehicle when I was seventeen and got my license. My friends and I took a lot of stupid risks, like driving when the weather conditions sucked, and packing eight kids into a Chevy Nova on a regular practice. We’d have been more reliant on parents and public transportation if we couldn’t drive, but we’d have been a lot safer.

Any thoughts?

I agree.:slight_smile: (I really need to learn how to make these posts longer.)

> Any thoughts?

Well, I read the subject and scoffed, but then read your post and you made a lot of sense. Great food for thought!

The problem I see is that you can’t go much further with the driving age. Not everybody goes to college, and those who can’t are already at a disadvantage in the work force. Keeping them from driving is not exactly fair.

One interesting thought, though:

What about raising the “full citizenship” age to 21. It’s never made sense to me that you can vote and get drafted at 18, but not drink till your 21. Why don’t we just make 21 the limit after which everything is allowed. (I’d even support a constitutional amendment ditching the age requirements for national offices and prohibiting the government from placing any age restrictions on rights past age 21.)

Then we could just come up with a graduated civil rights system, such as:

Age 0: Drinking but not purchasing alcohol
Age 16: Driving to School and Work
Age 17: Getting into adult movies alone
Age 18: Driving anywhere
Age 19: Age of Consent, Marriage, etc.
Age 20: Purchasing Alcohol
Age 21: Voting Rights & Draft, Full Citizenship

That’s just a quick example (i.e. don’t take that ordering seriously), but it seems that if we’re going to restrict teenagers’ rights, we may as well not pretend that they’re full citizens yet. We’re all going to start living longer anyway, so why not extend the period of parental influence a bit.

I’m an underage college student with zero interest in drinking. None. Nada. My friends don’t drink either. And I know half a dozen ways/places to get alcohol pretty easily, not to mention how to get a fake ID.
If I know all of this, imagine how easy it is for somebody seeking the stuff to find it.
Making drinking illegal for those under twenty-one doesn’t stop anybody. If it did, squares like me wouldn’t know how to get their hands on it. If it weren’t forbidden fruit, there wouldn’t be such an allure to drinking. Living in a dorm setting, I’ve seen how once people become legal, the amount of binge drinking that they do seems to drop precipitously. I’m not quite sure why this is, and I have no citations to back up this very anecdotal evidence, but perhaps lowering the drinking age would lower the incredibly high rates of binge drinking on campuses.
Separately, how do countries with lower drinking ages, such as Canada or the UK deal with driving ages? What are the rates of traffic fatalities in these countries?
Additionally, how would one regulate whether a teenager is driving to school or not? If one gives restricted hours during which a license is valid, they are unable to work a late shift or on weekends - would one require (easily forgeable) affidavits from their employers/parents/principals?

I agree that the 21 drinking age is idiotic. I think the mid to late teens are a reasonable time to learn to handle alcohol.

I like the idea of either raising the driving age or limiting under-21 drivers in the ways described by Podkayne. Even when they don’t drink and drive, young people do have more accidents. But as GilaB points out, what do we do about under 21 young people with jobs? Do we just say, “sorry, you can’t work the late shift”?

I think the US may be the only one of the developed nations to have this problem. In Western Europe and the UK, kids do learn to drink at home, and can drink legally in their teens. And when they do drink outside the home, it’s apt to be in a neighborhood tavern. People walk home.

I’m unsure as to how Canada, Australia, etc. have avoided this problem. Maybe driving just isn’t as widespread, esp. among young people? Maybe drunk driving has been effectivly cracked down upon?


Another option would be curfew laws. My town had a 10pm curfew; the only time I was allowed by my parents to be out after 10 was when I was working. Driving home from work at 2 pm was allowed under the curfew; cruising around with a bunch of friends was not.

I’ve noticed, from past experience and anectodally, that kids’ IQ points magically drop 10 points or so when they have more than one other teen in the car with them. I knew one girl, a smart and sensible person, who was bopping to some loud music in her car with 3 of her friends (the witness in the car behind her said they were dancing) and got hit by a train, killing all four of them instantly. It’s hard to imagine adults doing this.

Here in the UK the drinking age is 18, the driving age (IIRC) is 17. The age of other “adult” activities varies between Scotland and England/Wales. (E.g. Marriage in Scotland is legal at 16, in E/W it’s 18.) I’m not sure how the drinking and driving ages here affect things like traffic fatalities. I can tell you that I’m not sure the young people handle alcohol any differently than young drinkers in the States. University students tend to go drinking a lot (although not necessarily binge drinking; or at least, not by their standards). The main thing that’s better here is that because drinking is much more popular (across the entire adult population), there are many more pubs, and most people have a “local” – a regular hangout which is within walking distance. Additionally, “cruising” isn’t nearly as popular here, probably because it’s a lot more expensive to drive. So instead of driving around all night, young people tend to go to clubs and get a taxi home.

As for the OP, I agree that the current legal ages for adult activities don’t make a lot of sense, but I don’t see them being amended any time soon.

meara, I’m getting the impression that you have a typical American attitude that driving is some kind of a right of citizenship. Driving isn’t a right guaranteed by the Constitution, it’s a privilege. On the flipside, some people go their entire lives without learning how to drive, and they aren’t some sort of half-citizens.

At the same time, I wouldn’t advocate raising the driving age all the way to 21, just for the practical reason that once you’re out of school and on your own, it’s a great hardship to have to bum a ride off your parents to go to work. However, last time I checked, busses are available to take kids to school. (There’s even an “activities bus” in our area that runs later in the day in our area to take home kids who participate in sports or other extracurriciulars.) The accident rate for 16- and 17-year-olds is three times as high as for 18-19-year-olds. (One of the cites above). Just restricting or prohibiting 16- or 17-year-old drivers would prevent accidents.

Holly, curfews make me squeamish, but I’m not as uncomfortable as restricting teens from driving late at night. See privileges vs. rights, above. Also, in searching for cites, I stumbled across some studies show that adolescents have poor night time vision, though I can’t find the damn pages now, natch. :mad:

As well as the drinking culture, I think that the size and geography of most of the UK makes a difference. It’s feasible to not drive at all (I never passed my test, and it hasn’t ruined my life) – for most of us, there’s always a pub within taxi, bike or walking distance.

I like Podkayne’s plan. I have no cites, but from personal experience my friends were not good drivers when they first passed their tests. The point about peer pressure is spot on; I couldn’t count the number of times a friend would try driving with headlights off at night on an unlit road “for a dare”.

IIRC from my Social Demography class, the UK has an extraordinarily high percentage of its population living in urban areas - significantly higher than in the US, though I can’t remember the exact numbers. It’s much, much more difficult in parts of the US to get away with not having a car. Even in some American cities it’s quite difficult. So (in response to GilaB’s question), I really don’t think that what works in the UK could necessarily be considered applicable to the US.

Personally I think any proposal to reduce problems related to driving, whether it’s road accidents, pollution, or whatever, has to start by trying to make public transport a more viable alternative. But that’s probably a subject for another thread.

I think you misunderstand me. I wasn’t speaking of a “right to drive”, but rather a “right not to be denied any rights OR privileges solely based on age” (after a given “age of responsibility” which should correspond to the voting age). Since the constitution has built in age restrictions for some national offices, that would certainly require a constitutional amendment.

It’s somewhat absurd to allow someone to vote but insist that s/he is too immature to drink or drive responsibly.


If you want to take away the keys, you’d better fund another means of transportation. Where I live, the nearest outlet of civilization is a gas station, 30 minutes away by foot. Even the closest bus stop is 30-40 minutes away.

Bicycling is just as impractical - there are very few bike lanes or parking racks in town. Many buses don’t have bike racks, and when they do, you need a permit to use them.

I’m not at all surprised that teenage drivers are more likely to have passengers… it’s called carpooling, and we encourage adults to do the same. Teenagers are less likely to own a car, so they look for a ride with friends who do.

To my understanding, there is a valid reason for the high age of boozing and driving, which is that the majority of kids don’t manage to get their hormonal emotions and actions very well under control until 21. They’re kind of loose cannons running around.

Some years ago, mainly due to protests during the Vietnam war, the drinking age was lowered. Justifiably, kids felt that at 18, 19 and 20, they were old enough to get drafted, handle millions in military equipment, go out and get shot at and kill as many of the enemy as possible, but could not go into a US bar and have a beer.

If I remember correctly, pandemonium reigned when 18 year olds could buy booze legally and the accident rates went up so fast that they returned the age to 21.

But, then, America has a love/hate relationship with anything that makes one feel good, unlike many European nations. I think it’s from the puritanistic background where if one had fun, it was sinful!

I would certainly like to see the reaction if some ladies group pushed prohibition through in the United Kingdom! No more booze! The citizens would overthrow the Queen and Parliament within a week! Not like here in the States, were everyone wussied out and went dry for several years, enabling organized crime to get a big foothold in the nation through rum running operations. (Boy! Now that was a real stupid law!)

Teaching kids to drink responsively would be a good idea and it wouldn’t hurt to get tougher, less stupid drunk driving laws. Instead of grabbing the poor guy who has 1 beer, which puts him at the legal limit and giving him a DUI, which happens a whole lot, start going after the repeat drunks who get 27 DUIs, loose their licenses but still drive around and get into wrecks!!

It doesn’t help a whole lot to start producing Ice Beers either, which have higher than normal alcohol content or keep showing expensive ads on TV, glorifying the consumption of gallons of beer as cool, with it and what smart people do.

Notice, advertising hard booze on TV is illegal, but beer companies can shove in their ads by the ton, especially during sports games. What a great lobby! Knock out the hard booze advertising while buying off enough of congress to let them splash their brew all across the nation as seductively as possible.!!!

I did a whole lot of drinking in college, especially after National Lampoon’s Animal House came out and gave all of us ‘youngsters’ ideas. I drank my butt off because I was finially legal to do so.

But, Federal statistics do indicate that kid below the age of 28 have the highest accident rates of all, especially the guys, who from age 13 have testosterone levels so high that the stuff is nearly running out of their ears.

That, plus booze plus cars creates a big problem.

I don’t know how the British handle drunk driving, nor the French, who seem born with a wine bottle in hand.

Acutally, it isn’t illegal to advertise hard alcohol on U.S. TV – it is a voluntary self-ban that has been in effect so long it probably seems like law. A year or two ago, at least one distiller started a limited television ad campaign that backfired – not because it was illegal, but because people threw a hissy fit. (Some of whom, perhaps, celebrated their successful quashing of the ad campaign with a cocktail.)

I think part of the issue that contributes to the accident rate among teenage drivers is the woefully low standards for receiving a driver’s license in the U.S. Personally, my driving test was a joke, but fortunately for me, I lost my license for a year due to a reckless op charge six weeks after my sixteenth birthday. Might have saved my life. Perhaps.

Since, I’ve done an informal study of driver’s tests in a number of states, and found that required knowledge is uniformly minimal. Some states don’t even require an understanding of how to merge or how to use a 4-way stop – great places for accidents. Written exams are beneath contempt, and road tests often consist of little more than driving around the block.

My brother learned to drive in Germany. The mandatory drivers education there was far more extensive than the most rigorous U.S. drivers test requires. As an 18-year-old returning to the U.S. after 4 years in Germany, he couldn’t believe how poorly everyone drove.

IMHO, the problem can be traced to the aforementioned U.S. tendency to think of driving as a right, rather than a privilege. We wouldn’t want to make it hard to get out on the road, now would we? So you couple substandard drives training with the raging hormones and undeveloped judgement of teenagers and it’s no wonder so many of them die in our beloved cars.

Personally, I’m for raising the driving, voting, and draft age to 21, but moving the drinking age to 18. It’ll never happen, of course, (the military, for instance, will never give up their impressionable teenagers to warp) but it would solve a lot of problems.

Since that’s not going to happen, I can only insist with my own 15-year-old daughter that: A) she learn to drive to my standards, and, B) that she do so as soon as she’s 16, and finally, C) that she be the one behind the wheel rather than one of her undertrained friends. If she’s going to be on the road, perhaps she, at least, will have some skills.

Then all I can do is pray.

I’m not certain raising the driving age will stop inexperienced drivers from having accidents. Yes, there is the stupid teenager factor which is inescapable. More about that later. But as for inexperienced drivers, well, they’re inexperienced. They haven’t been able to practice enough to be able to judge what you can do with a car and what you can’t. Leaving out the stupid teenager factor for now, a 16 year old driver just starting and an 18 year old driver just starting have the same amount of experience–zero. The 18 year old may not be as obnoxious and may have more life experience to draw on, but that doesn’t, in my mind, make them a more experienced driver. Inexperienced drivers will always have more accidents, regardless of age, because they haven’t built up the practice.

As for the stupid teenager factor: IIRC, Wisconsin (hooray for cheese!) is thinking about instituting some laws that a)limit the amount of hours a young driver can drive; b)limit the times such drivers can be out driving (limited night driving, for example); and c)limit the amount of other teenagers said young driver can have in the car with them at one time (like only being able to drive alone or with family, for example). I think such laws are a Good Thing–they reduce the admittedly large stupid teenager factor and give young, inexperienced drivers more practice in order to make them older, better drivers. That said, a 30-year-old co-worker of mine drives horribly. 'Course, he is from Illinois (not that that’s an excuse!) So does my brother (also 30). Go figure.

Now–lowering the drinking age (sigh). I dunno. Some 18 year olds here in WI a few years ago decided to show how mature they were and how responsibly they could handle a lowered drinking age by rioting, breaking storefront windows, setting fire to things, and generally behaving like hooligans. Ever since, WI politicians have been understandibly hesitant in considering any drinking age lowering. I’ve seen 18-year-old Americans who were remarkably responsible, and 22-year-olds who couldn’t handle it. But I don’t think lowering the drinking age will enforce responsibility–ya either got it or ya don’t. That said, tougher drunk driving laws would go a long way. Here, they’re a joke. I spent my second-to-last semester in Australia where drink driving laws mean something, and therefore, people largely don’t drink and drive–the penalties are too high. I spit upon America’s drunk driving laws. Take the license or car away at the first offense. Take it away permanently at the second. Then maybe we’d see some responsibility as a result.


I like to watch the British television programs and they’ve had a few good ones about nutty drivers, but their Driving School is mandatory and expensive! One lady had taken the driving course 11 times and still failed it!

It’s funny to watch what they consider serious driving offenses. Speed around a cop car, drive up on the median to pass on the left and you get a fine. Drive with your knees and they about throw the book at you! (They’d love me. I used to be a long distance driver and learned to drive with my knees.) Get caught using a cell phone while driving and they pull you over. COOL! We need some of those laws here.

The military will probably never increase the draft age because they want you at your prime, which gives you a better chance of surviving a war. Not only are your reflexes and stamina at peak, but your bodies ability to heal itself, tolerate stress, and handle punishment is high. No matter what most think, the military wants you to survive. It costs a bundle to train soldiers so each soldier is an investment and those generals of old who plunged doggedly into battle, returning with 50 to 75% of their command gone were removed quickly. The military doesn’t like troops getting killed for stupidity or, actually, killed at all.

We do need stricter driving rules for kids, though. When I did long distance driving, there were two groups who gave me problems; kids and old farts. The old farts were too slow, watched you barrel down on them at 100 mph, then waited until you were 20 feet away and pulled out into traffic at 6 mph. Then, as you braked hard enough to make one side of your tires shaved flat, they trundled on off, oblivious to the huge cloud of smoke, screeching of rubber and swearing of the driver behind them, … at 20 mph.

Kids zipped in and out, laying rubber, cutting too close, hot rodding around dangerous curves, and generally not thinking. I figure that massive, thundering bass beat from those stereo speakers wedged in their trunks playing rap probably vibrated their little brains too much. Add a little booze, and they get over confident and more aggressive than older drivers.

I agree that this is true. However, it is widely said that immaturity is a major component as well, though, surprisingly, I could not find any statistics that directly addressed this point. It seems like it would be easy to just plot the number of accidents per mile vs. age for people who have X years of driving experience. There’d be a bias, of course, because people who wait to learn how to drive are probably be more cautious to begin with, but it would still be interesting to see.

Do you think it would help if the drinking age were actually lower than 18? Maybe stipulate that there must be adult supervision of some sort, but let kids drink as soon as their parents figure then can handle a beer or two? At 18 or 21, it seems like people suddenly have easy access to alcohol and go nuts because they have no prior experience with it. Of course, you could make the drinking age 30, 60, or 90, and there would still be irresponsible drinkers.

Amen to that. It boggles my mind to hear reports of people getting their 3rd DUI. I figure that if someone is stupid enough to drink and get behind the wheel after they’ve already been busted once, they shouldn’t be allowed to handle pointy scissors, much less operate a motor vehicle. Once is a lapse in judgement; twice is evidence of major cognitive impairment. And you know if they got busted three times, they’ve been on the road drunk dozens of times (at least) when there didn’t happen to be a cop around, or any innocents in the way for them to kill.

But, as I recall, that is an entirely different Great Debate. :slight_smile:


Shady, conditioning and reflexes notwithstanding, the military wants people when they’re younger because you can get teenagers, especially teenage boys, to do crazy things much easier than you can get people even in their early twenties. What could be more insane than willingly rushing headlong into a hail of bullets and shrapnel? Yet many 18 year olds can’t wait for their chance. Even two years later, the willingness and MENTAL trainability noticeably drops off.

Physical conditioning and durability, while important, is secondary. Otherwise, the military would be 100% against smoking, for instance. Most of the twenty and thirty somethings in my co-ed basketball league are in better shape than your average GI Joe (though I’d never say that in the face of a Marine). But whatever. Sure, the brass wants you to survive, as much as possible. But military objectives cost lives and materiel, and that’s just the way it is. What the brass wants more than your survival is your ability to not puppy out when the going gets tough. If losses are lower than expected, great! But there are always acceptable losses in a real military operation.

You gotta get 'em young while they still think they’re immortal and haven’t figured out yet exactly why they might want to stay alive.

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